NEW YORK — Christopher & Banks Corp. said third-quarter profits increased 34.4 percent, marking the 15th consecutive quarter in which earnings have exceeded prior-year results.

The Minneapolis-based plus-size specialty retailer — which operates under the nameplates Christopher & Banks, Braun’s and C.J. Banks — said net income for the quarter ended Dec. 1 was $10.7 million, or 41 cents a diluted share, compared with year-ago profits of $7.9 million, or 31 cents.

Sales rose 35.6 percent to $77.7 million versus $57.3 million in last year’s quarter, while same-store sales increased 7 percent. Novelty knitwear and items bearing patriotic themes boosted sales for the quarter.

The company said stores opened in fiscal 1999, 2000 and 2001 generated increases that significantly exceeded those at more mature stores.

Bill Prange, chairman and chief executive officer, said in a statement: “Our ability to generate a 34 percent increase in net income in a very difficult and challenging retail environment clearly demonstrates the strength of our brands. Sales performance was driven by robust results at newer stores in the comparable-store base.”

During the third quarter, C&B opened 20 new stores, bringing the total number of new stores to 82 for the year.

The company currently operates 353 stores in 30 states, consisting of 241 Christopher & Banks stores, 56 Braun’s stores and 56 with the the C.J. Banks name. Looking ahead, the company said it plans to change the remaining Braun’s stores to the Christopher & Banks banner by December 2002. Approximately 90 new stores are planned for next year.

Prange added that the company’s strong cash position enabled it to retire the remaining $5.3 million of its long-term debt on Dec. 10. A 3-for-2 stock split, the fourth split in the last two years, was completed on Dec. 12.

The firm said December sales are trending to the high end of the 3 to 5 percent comp increase forecast when it released its November sales results. Christopher & Banks’s same-store sales increased 10 percent in November and 4 percent in October.

For the nine months, net income increased 32.9 percent, to $22.6 million, or 87 cents a diluted share, compared with income of $17 million, or 67 cents, last year. Sales increased 36.9 percent, to $193.1 million from $141.1 million, last year and were up 8 percent on a comp basis.”122601″>”1201″>”JENNIFER>”2001″>”WOMENS>

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